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America Loses a Hero, Benedictine Loses a Friend.
Col. Roger Donlon (ret.) passed away last Thursday, Jan. 25. He was a decorated war hero, the first to be awarded the Medal of Honor from the Vietnam War, and had close ties to Benedictine College. He spoke on campus regularly and was often featured in the Leadership Class. He was the first person honored with Benedictine’s St. Martin of Tours Award during Stars & Stripes Weekend in 2017 and received an honorary degree from the college during the 2015 Commencement Exercises. He supported student scholarships and was very proud that his granddaughter, Justine, graduated from Benedictine College in 2020.
Mass of Christian Burial was held at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Leavenworth, Kansas, on January 30, 2024. A Celebration of Life will be held on April 10, 2024, beginning at 1:00 p.m. at the Frontier Conference Center, 350 Biddle Avenue, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. In lieu of cards or flowers, please consider a memorial donation to the Gary Sinise Foundation.
Roger Donlon grew up in central New York state, one of ten children. Family values were treasured, and he learned the importance of honesty, hard work and integrity. Through the Boy Scouts, he learned about leadership and patriotism, even after his father had died. He said that he always tried to guide his life by the principles of the Ten Commandments and the Scout Oath.
Military service was a tradition in the Donlon family and Roger’s father and brothers all served. He would go on to join the Air Force and then attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. In 1959 he was commissioned as a U.S. Army infantry lieutenant after graduating from Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia. From there he attended airborne training, followed by the U.S. Army Special Warfare School at Fort Bragg. Eventually, he became one of America’s elite, a Special Forces officer of the Green Berets.
By 1964, Donlon was a captain stationed in Vietnam. At Camp Nam Dong, a small post deep in the jungles on the border with Laos, his 12-man team served as advisors to 311 South Vietnamese soldiers. In the darkness of the early morning hours of July 6, nearly 1,000 Viet Cong and North Vietnamese soldiers attacked Nam Dong with mortars, grenades, rifles and other small arms. Two members of Special Forces Team A-726 died. Captain Donlon himself was wounded four times as he continuously encouraged his men and delivered ammunition across the line.
Less than six months after the attack, still recovering from his wounds, he was invited to the White House. President Lyndon Johnson presented him with the Medal of Honor, making him the first Green Beret in history, and the first American soldier of the Vietnam War, to receive the nation’s highest honor.
Donlon was certainly a hero and role model, but his story went beyond the battlefield. He is an example of the American spirit of service and dedication. He served his country in uniform for 32 years and then traveled the country, talking to youth and veterans alike, offering encouragement and inspiration. He was a devoted family man, faithful to God and his church, a patriot to the core, and always a friend and mentor to those with whom he came in contact. He will be missed.
Photo Credit: Sgt. Sean Hall, U.S. Army